Motorbiking North Vietnam

14 days / 13 nights

Vietnam offers some fantastic motorbiking thanks to a combination of good roads and stunning mountain scenery. This ride passes through some of the most remote and rugged regions of the country and is a fascinating two-wheeled introduction to the ethnic minorities of the far north. After exploring Hanoi, we leave the capital by motorbike and make for the White Thai villages around Mai Chau. Climbing into the mountains, the route passes through Son La en route to Dien Bien Phu, the site of France’s dramatic military defeat in Indochina. We continue to cross the roof of Vietnam, climbing the stunning Tram Ton Pass into Sapa. We leave the bikes for a day to do some trekking before travelling on to Bac Ha, home to the friendly Flower Hmong. The ride then winds into the wilds of Ha Giang, including the legendary gorge road from Dong Van to Meo Vac. The ride ends with the chance to explore Ba Be National Park by boat and on foot before we cruise into Hanoi.

In brief

  1. Day 1: Arrive Hanoi. Cyclo tour of the city.
  2. Day 2: HCM Mausoleum, Temple of Literature. KOTO lunch. Prepare motorbike.
  3. Day 3: Hanoi to Mai Chau. Explore the valley.
  4. Day 4: Mai Chau to Son La.
  5. Day 5: Son La to Dien Bien Phu.
  6. Day 6: Dien Bien Phu to Lai Chau.
  7. Day 7: Lai Chau to Sapa.
  8. Day 8: Exploring Sapa villages on foot or by bicycle.
  9. Day 9: Sapa to Bac Ha via backroads.
  10. Day 10: Bac Ha to Ha Giang.
  11. Day 11: Ha Giang to Bao Lac via Meo Vac.
  12. Day 12: Bao Lac to Ba Be National Park.
  13. Day 13: Exploring Ba Be.
  14. Day 14: Ba Be to Hanoi where tour ends.

In detail

Day 1: Arrive Hanoi. Cyclo tour of the city.

Upon arrival, we transfer to our hotel. In the afternoon, we enjoy a cyclo ride around the Colonial District and the Old Quarter to discover the city’s architectural mixture of French colonial style, socialist realism, pagodas and communal houses with many Chinese features, merchants’ residences, ‘tube’ dwellings, modern buildings and vernacular houses. We have time to freshen for our first night’s dinner. Stay overnight in Hanoi.

Day 2: HCM Mausoleum, Temple of Literature. KOTO lunch. Prepare motorbike.

This morning, we’ll visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Presidential Palace, HCM's traditional stilt house, and the One Pillar Pagoda. The next destination is the Temple of Literature, the first university in Vietnam dating back to the 11th century. We will have lunch at KOTO, a restaurant well known as a school for under-privilaged students to be trained to work in the hospitality industry. In the afternoon, we will proceed to the most beautiful of Hanoi’s museums, the Ethnology Museum. This showpiece provides a fascinating insight into the histories and lifestyle’s of the 54 ethnic groups of Vietnam. In the later afternoon, we visit the bike shop to select our bikes and prep the biking gear. Overnight in Hanoi.

Day 3: Hanoi to Mai Chau. Explore the valley.

An early start sees us bid fairwell to Hanoi and hit the road for the bike trip of a lifetime. We leave the urban scenery behind as we head South West and into the mountains as head towards the valley of Mai Chau. The scenery continues to become more dramatic and we’ll break our journey with a stop at a tea station. Upon arrival we’ll be introduced to our host and taken on a short orientation walk of the village. Our lunch will be taken at a local house as we enjoy the local hospitality. In the afternoon, we can switch to pedal power and ride through the local villages of Tai ethnic people and stop by Mai Chau market. Later, we walk to Lac and Nhot village before dinner. Overnight in Mai Chau Lodge.

Day 4: Mai Chau to Son La.

Leave Mai Chau, we will ride on to Son la with some photo stops along the way. The ride includes a stop at Moc Chau, one of the most famous tea plantation regions in Vietnam. Son La is a natural break in the journey and includes a well-known hot springs if you need to indulge your saddle-sore muscles. Overnight in Son La

Day 5: Son La to Dien Bien Phu.

This morning, we visit Son La museum and the former French prison. During 1930 to 1945, this was to keep in prison the communists. We hit the road by bike and enjoy the picturesque scenery as we pass the villages of Black Thai, White Thai, Meo and Muong peoples and stop by Thuan Chau market. After a short visit, we will ride over 37km Pha Din pass “where the earth meet the sky”. The scenery along the way is very peaceful with rice terraces fields and local hill tribes villages on the way. In the afternoon, we drive to Dien Bien Phu. The town rocketed to international prominence when Viet Minh troops under General Giap overcame the beleaguered French forces in 1954, the decisive battle that ended nearly a century of French occupation of Vietnam. Recently, Dien Bien Phu has begun to expand rapidly and the Vietnam government’s policy is to encourage ethnic Vietnamese families to move to the area. Nevertheless, despite a boost from tourism stimulated by the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the town is still rarely visited by international guests. Overnight in a hotel.

Day 6: Dien Bien Phu to Lai Chau.

In the morning, we will visit to the historial sites including Dien Bien Phu museum and many other historical places around this area. You can understand the hardships of the war era and how determined the Vietnamese were to prevail using simple bike to transport heavy weapons over the formidable mountains. We visit A1 hill, the most important site during the war, where the Vietnamese fought for 36 days to take over the hill from the French. We also visit the commander shelter of General De Castries and the cemeteries of French and Vietnamese soldiers. We will then leave Dien Bien Phu for Muong Lay, a small charming town set by the Song Da (Black River). The town will one day be submerged under water as part of the new reservoir project. After lunch, we drive to Lai Chau. The ride is stunning with tiered tea plantations and verdant rice terraces carved into the landscape. Overnight in a hotel or guesthouse.

Day 7: Lai Chau to Sapa.

If we are here on a Sunday, it’s a good chance to join the unique Sunday market. Leaving early, you have the chance to see the sun rise as you head through indescribable mountain scenery and watch the villages waking up. The market gathering place is in the wilderness. Many local hilltribes people leave their isolated and amazingly precipitous, mountaintop cornfields, and trek many kilometres to attend this weekly social and commercial event. There are few souvenirs for sale here but you may find a bargain buffalo. From Lai Chau to Sapa you pass through Tam Duong, and over the top of the 1900m Tram Ton Pass, Vietnam's highest mountain pass and considered the most beautiful stretch of road in the country. This is a stunning ride for bikers and we will stop at the summit to take a team photo of the incredible snaking road. We arrive at Sapa about noon time, you'll be free for refreshment and wandering around the active town. You'll spend the night in a hotel in Sapa.

Day 8: Exploring Sapa villages on foot or by bicycle.

You'll meet with our guide and and drive to take a short ride to the Golden Stream Valley, stopping at Lao Chai village. Walk down through the village from the main road and start trekking along the rice field to Lao Chai (Black H’mong) and Ta Van (Dzay) village. This trek is quite easy but can be quite slippery if it rains. You will visit some families and learn about their daily life and fascinating culture. We will stop by one of the local Dzay family for a picnic lunch. This afternoon, we will trek to Giang Ta Chai (Red Dzao) village. The trekking route offers some challenge as you balance on the rice terraces and a small trail on the steep mountainside. The vegetation is dense as the trail leads up to a peaceful village perched on the Hoang Lien mountainside. After visit one of the family in the village, we will walk to the main road to meet with our driver and drive back to Sapa town.

Day 9: Sapa to Bac Ha via backroads.

Start at your hotel in the morning for a visit to Bac Ha today. The first period from Sapa to Lao Cai the ride passes the stunning view of Sapa's rice terraces. The second part of the road from Lao Cai to Bac Ha is hilly but offers beautiful views. Arrive in Bac Ha, check in your hotel and relax. Afternoon, visiting to a palace of Hmong Lord. Then we trek around to Ban Pho village for a visiting to the colorful ethnic in Bac Ha, Flower Hmong people. Overnight in Bac Ha.

Day 10: Bac Ha to Ha Giang.

We bid farewell to Bac Ha town in the morning, and continue travelling to Ha Giang, one of the most remote and beautiful provinces in all Vietnam, famed as the final frontier for motorbiking enthusiasts. Passing the agricultural village Pho Giang with famous fruits like mango, lychee, longan and apricot, we will travel to Viet Quang. We eventual arrive in the town of Ha Giang and check in to a local hotel. We will visit Me village, a home to the ethnic Tay people. The rest of the day for wandering in this peaceful village. Overnight in Ha Giang.

Day 11: Ha Giang to Bao Lac via Meo Vac.

This is the day bikers will be talking about for the rest of their lives, as they tackle the famous gorge road from Dong Van to Meo Vac. We ride to the small communities of Yen Minh via Quan Ba pass. Today is a real challenge, but the breath-taking scenery makes the hardship all worthwhile. We take a two-hour trek to visit villages of Tay and Dzay people before breaking for lunch in Yen Minh. In the afternoon, we continue to Meo Vac. This is one of the best photo stops on the ride to enjoy the wonderful sightseeing of this vast limestone mountain range and the perpendicular walls of rock, which gives you the feeling of adventure whilst being lost in the rocky highlands. Our ride continues into Cao Bang Province and the small town of Bao Lac. Overnight in Bao Lac.

Day 12: Bao Lac to Ba Be National Park.

We continue our trip to Ba Be in the morning for a visiting to Ba Be National Park. The last part of the journey may take you through striking mountain scenery. We arrive at Ba Be national park and travel down river in a motor launch through Puong Cave. After lunch, we reach the lake, the Fairy Pond, set in dense forest with many birds. It’s a pleasant opportunity to relax as the boat glides through the unruffled crystal-clear water. Enjoy a sunset stroll in the crisp forest air. Have dinner and spend the night in Ba Be.

Day 13: Exploring Ba Be.

Today we have a mountain hiking trip from the National Park headquarters through primitive forest to the Dao ethnic minority village of Hin Dam. The hiking is arduous, but the panorama over the lake, the forest flora, and the hospitality of the Dao people more than compensates. We return to Ba Be town for a visit to the local market in the afternoon. Overnight in Ba Be.

Day 14: Ba Be to Hanoi where tour ends.

In the morning, we ride on to Hanoi. After stopping for lunch along the way, we arrive in Hanoi in the afternoon. Tour ends.